Ever since I graduated from college, I’ve been riding mostly by myself.
I couldn’t afford a horse right away, so I rode whatever horse or pony I could get my hands on. That meant mostly young greenies like OTTBs and sale prospects, but also a few deadhead lesson horses and a friend’s talented Prix St. George mount that needed regular schooling. In some ways, the variety of horses I was able to ride before I purchased my Hanoverian mare, Belinda, taught me more than what I would have gotten out of regular lessons all that time.
But riding by yourself isn’t easy. Showing is even harder.
I’ve done it a few times — packed up a young prospect that I was trying to sell for its owner and taken them to schooling shows over the weekends. When they’re young and green, there’s no expectation of winning a round or even being well behaved. I just worked with whatever horse I had on that particular day and kept putting miles on them.
When I show Belinda now, who at 18 is no young greenie by any means, the expectation is usually the same. Unfortunately I don’t have a ton of time to commit to riding these days with a demanding career, a wedding to plan this year, family commitments and other boring adult stuff that seems to grow as I get older. Sure, I set goals for my mare and me. I want to move up a level this year. I want us to both to be more fit. But I also realize that because I’m doing this on my own, my schedule is fluid — it changes depending on what crisis is happening that day/week/month.
So if we do show, it’s about having a good time.
I take lessons when I can, but I’m lucky if that’s once a month. My trainer lives an hour away, so if I want to take Belinda somewhere locally, that usually means we’re on our own.
So when Belinda and I hauled out to a schooling show last weekend I was completely prepared to do it all by myself. We packed the truck, loaded the mare, drove to the show grounds and set up at our stall. The girl in the office knew who I was immediately because I was the only rider that weekend that wasn’t associated with a trainer or barn.
Back at the show barn, Belinda’s stall was sandwiched between two farms with nearly a dozen horses in their crew. Luckily everyone was super friendly. Our neighbors realized pretty quickly that Belinda and I were there by ourselves. They complimented me on her turn out and offered to lend a step stool or borrow a hose if I needed it.
Showing by yourself means you’re up before the sun to feed and get ready for the day. It’s up to you to pay attention to the schedule in each ring as there’s no holding a class for you for a trainer conflict.
It’s harder to claim a jump to school when you’ve got trainers running around with six kids in the same class, so I got used to schooling just what was available. For every division I was either first to go or the very last — since I wasn’t with a trainer, I had no clout with the ringside manager.
It may sound lonely, but I actually felt supported. The ringside managers offered me water every time I came out of the ring after my rounds. Our neighbors from back at the barns cheered for us when they caught a glimpse of our rides. Strangers complimented me and my horse when we won grand champion in both our hunter and equitation divisions. When it came time to head home, our neighbors were the first to offer help with the trailer.
I should also probably mention my fabulous finance, who was ringside the entire day with a bucket and bag of carrots in hand, and filmed all of my rides. I probably couldn’t have done it without him.
It’s a lot of work, competing in horse shows. It’s even tougher when you’re doing it alone. But horse people are the best kind of people. They never made me feel “alone” all weekend.
Here’s Belinda and I showing in the Jumpers at Fox Lea Farm.